The CNMI Department of Labor, which has been dodging phone call inquiries by the public about delayed unemployment assistance, finally has published the following update:
The CNMI Department of Labor (CNMI DOL) is providing the general public with the latest payment updates regarding the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) programs in the Marianas.
Payment Cycle Information All PUA and FPUC benefits payments are disbursed on scheduled payment cycles. All direct deposit (also known as ACH deposit) benefits beginning in late July until mid-October of this year are slated for disbursement in the month of December. All paper check benefits beginning in late July through September 2020 have been mailed, disbursed in-person, or voided due to incorrect claimant information or fraudulent activity. PUA claimants who have any questions about the payment of unemployment benefits are encouraged to contact the PUA Call Center at the numbers listed in this public announcement.
CNMI DOL and the Department of Finance (DOF) will continue to issue paper checks and process ACH payments even after the end of the PUA and FPUC application period on December 26, 2020, contingent on the availability of funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Payment Disbursements As of November 18, 2020, CNMI DOL and CNMI DOF have disbursed upwards of $108.4 million in PUA and FPUC benefits to eligible claimants. That number is set to increase by approximately $26.3 million, barring any returns due to bank rejections, overpayments, or fraudulent applications.
Direct Deposit Disbursements. Eligible claimants who fall under certain payment cycles, and who have opted to receive PUA benefits via direct deposit generally receive their benefits within 7 to 10 business days. This type of disbursement continues to be the safest and most expeditious way eligible claimants can receive their unemployment benefits.
Paper Check Disbursements. Eligible claimants who fall under certain payment cycles, and who have opted to receive PUA benefits via paper check generally receive their benefits within 2 to 3 weeks after vetting by the CNMI DOL. More than 8,000 paper checks have been reviewed and verified by CNMI DOL. In addition, thousands of fraudulent checks have been intercepted and voided that were made out to non-CNMI claimants. It remains the obligation of the CNMI DOL to ensure that the integrity of the program remains intact and will therefore continue to verify all paper checks.
Payment Delays Bank Rejections and Violations. In early September, many PUA claimants who opted for direct deposit payments were switched to paper check payments as a result of numerous rejections from local banking institutions. Serious concerns involving the potential disruption of the CNMI Government’s financial management system warranted the initial switch from direct deposit to paper checks. The switch back to direct deposits occurred on October 29, 2020, after much deliberation of applicable ACH regulations and banking requirements.
Fraudulent Activity. After an initial CNMI DOL audit of paper check payments, findings concluded that more than 1,000 checks were made out to non-CNMI claimants. As a result, and due to the Department’s obligation to ensure that no benefits payments were issued to ineligible applicants, the Department made efforts to flag all claimants with non-CNMI physical or mailing addresses and offshore accounts on hiremarianas.com. The Department has also increased its staffing with the Benefits Payment Control (BPC) Unit to monitor and seize all fraudulent payouts.
FPUC Funding. On October 29, 2020, CNMI DOL received supplemental FPUC funding from the U.S. Department of Labor (US DOL) for $8M. This amount was sufficient for all FPUC payments through the September 22nd payment cycle. All FPUC payments after the September 22nd cycle were on hold. As of Thanksgiving Day, the CNMI DOL has been awarded an additional $27.5M which is sufficient to cover payment cycles through the month of November.
Overpayments/Fraud Collections As of November 30, 2020, the Benefits Payment Control (BPC) Unit has identified 625 overpayment cases worth over $5.5M. Overpayment activity typically occurs when claimants do not report wage earnings correctly or when claimants commit fraud to obtain PUA benefits. Of the 625 overpayment cases, 166 cases have been identified by the BPC Unit as out of state/territory cases. Approximately $1,821,518.31 million in fraudulent claims have been intercepted and cut off by the BPC Unit. Since its inception, the BPC Unit has successfully collected $1,153,659.63 in PUA and $1,532,110.95 in FPUC benefits, totaling $2,686,770.58. Individuals are encouraged to call 670-989-9095 to report any perceived instances of wrongdoing or fraud pertaining to PUA/FPUC.
Individuals who willfully conceal material facts or knowingly making false statement(s) to obtain PUA to which they are not entitled will be required to repay all benefits fraudulently collected and may be subject to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 1001.
Further Information Individuals who file a PUA claim will receive information about their benefit rights and responsibilities. To remain eligible for PUA, individuals must continue to meet ALL eligibility requirements and conditions found in the PUA and FPUC Benefits Rights Information Handbook. The Department encourages all applicants to read and understand their unemployment rights. To obtain a copy of the PUA and FPUC Benefits Rights Information Handbook, visit www.marianaslabor.net and click on “Forms & Publications” or request a copy from the CNMI Department of Labor, Employment Services Division located at building #1334, Capitol Hill Saipan.
General Program Inquiries Individuals who have questions about the PUA/FPUC programs are encouraged to contact the CNMI DOL via email at email@example.com or call the following numbers between 8:00 am through 4:00 pm, Monday – Friday: